Friday, December 28, 2007

Battle of the Sabis

Seems like a thousand years (or a bit over 30 generations) since I had occasion to actually write about Gaul. Here, though, is Livius' marvellous website devoted to the Battle of the Sabis, the 57 BC fight between Julius Caesar's legions and the Nervian Confederacy of Northern Gaul (Belgium, they called it--but it was a much broader swath of land that what we call Belgium today.)

The pictures on that site--including my favorite here, which belongs to Livius & is © Marco Prins and Jona Lendering--are of the Selle River. As I understand it, other locations have their adherants, and no discoveries have settled the matter. No battlefield remnants have been found, IOW. I think the Escault River is another possible site.

Still, these pictures are great, very well researched, and fit all that is known about the Sabis River site. Except . . .

. . . well, the picture right above is, according to the site, a hill called Le Quesnoy, and the spot where Caesar's 10th Legion had parked. A hill? Seriously? The "slope" to the right leads down to the river.

Here is what Caesar says, according to my copy of The Conquest of Gaul:

"2:18 At the place that the Romans had chosen for their camp a hill sloped down evenly from its summit to the Sambre. Opposite it, on the other side of the river, rose another hill with a similar gradient, on the lower slope of which were three hundred yards of open ground. . ."

Sambre was the Roman's name for the river.

The Livius site says this last picture looks from the Nervian side of the river, looking toward where the 12th and 7th legions of Rome assembled. Here, yes, I do see a hill. However, most of the landscape in the pictures (and there are over a dozen) show land I consider pretty flat.

In fact, I will throw in the small version of a last picture, showing the Nervian campsite. Remember, this is supposed to be a similar hill, with 300 yards of open ground on its lower slope.

I guess the jury's still out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Battle of the Top Tens

National Geographic now has a top ten archaeological stories of 2007. Were the Archaeology Magazine picks (previous post) not good enough?

Apparently not, since NG doesn't agree. Their list has stories about Hatshepsut (you can see my hubpage on that), Stonehenge settlements, plague graves on a Venetian island, the Lupercal cave in Rome--in fact, not one story matches Archaeology's top ten.

Which is, actually, really cool. That means 2007 was a great year for discoveries and new info, and there's double the reading for us armchair history lovers.

The picture is of a large Stonehenge house, one of two big buildings out of eight excavated. Either it belonged to someone important, or was used for ritual purposes.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Archaeology's Top Ten of 2007

Archaeology Magazine lists the top ten discoveries for 2007 online and in its Jan-Feb issue. They include new dating on Clovis points, discoveries at Tell Brak, Syria, Chankillo, Peru (& the squash seeds in Peru), Anghor, Cambodia, and Lismullin, Ireland, where a big Iron Age settlement was found within a mile of Tara.

That last one is pictured at right.
Highway workers found a henge--a ceremonial enclosure--dating back 2000 years.

People are irate over this: Lismullin is scheduled for demolition, like other towns along the M3 path. The EU is actually taking Ireland to the European Court of Justice over this! Yay! Here's the magazine link, and here's the Save Tara website.

In late November, those highway workers made another significant find: a carved stone probably dating back to the time that Newgrange was constructed, some 5000 years. Here's the story.

And here's the picture.

Also in the past few weeks, in Collierstown in the same vicinity, 60 bodies were unearthed, buried in a concentric circle. At another village, Roestown, a prehistoric game board, beads and jewelry--including gold torcs--were excavated. Here's a really interesting website that charts information of all the discoveries made in the area. Those discoveries include graves, mounds, filled-in ditches, homes and work areas that date back to the Bronze Age and before, all the way up to Medieval era.

Right. Who wouldn't want to run a highway through that?

That last website is maintained by the highway authorities. They state that the point of the excavation is: "should you so want to you could recreate the site. "

Recreation, not preservation. That's sad.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Site at Risk? Buy it Yourself!

Love this: a 33-acre archaeological site north of Austin, TX has been bought by one of the professors fighting to preserve it. The prof, one Michael Collins, then gave the parcel of land to the Archaeological Conservancy.

Like most college professors, Collins is not extravagantly wealthy. He cashed out his personal savings to close the sale.

The Gault site, as it's called, "was one of the major areas of activity for the Clovis people in North America and contains relics that are as many as 13,500 years old." That quote is from the American-Statesman web article. The Gault site was first worked over 1929 by University of Texas archaeologists, who loved the place so much they kept coming back. Here's a link to the UT website about Gault.

Even more spectacular--don't you agree that a site, used for several centuries some 13,000 years ago by mammoth hunters is spectacular?--is that in 2002, the University of Texas archaeologists found artefacts that predate Clovis.

(Clovis is defined by certain types of arrow and spearheads, originally discovered in Clovis, NM. The pictured points are from the Gault site, according to an article. For a long time, archaeologists insisted that Clovis people were the first in North America, and nothing could predate them. But excavations elsewhere--like Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania--are chipping away at this belief.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

UI Profs find Captain Kidd's Last Ship!

Newspapers and AP, ScienceDaily, and all other outlets would have you believe that the big news is that buccaneer Captain Kidd's ship has been found!

No. The big news is that Captain Kidd's ship was found and Robert Ballard had nothing to do with it. :->

The finders are an underwater archaeology team from Indiana University. They say that:

"The barnacled cannons and anchors found stacked beneath just 10 feet of crystalline coastal waters off Catalina Island [part of the Dominican Republic] are believed to be the wreckage of the Quedagh Merchant, a ship abandoned by the Scottish privateer in 1699."

The sunken ship is unlooted, but it wasn't holding treasure when it was sunk. The Quedagh Merchant was intentionally scuttled and burned after Kidd left it. He was on his way to New York to try (unsuccessfully) to clear his name. He was hung for piracy in 1701.

It was holding gold, silver, satin, and silk when Kidd siezed it south of the Indian coast a year earlier, however. Kidd had plenty of time to sell off some of its riches and bury the rest.

That's Dr. Charles Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, in the photo.

The plan is to explore it for the historical record, then set up an underwater preserve, accessible to snorkelers and divers. According the news story, the Dominican government has done this with other shipwrecks in its waters. Much more on the collaboration between the government and university is in the ScienceDaily story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Plagiarism: OK if You've Already Got the PhD

The Washington Post, citing 02138 Magazine as its source, exposes the practice of celebrity professors at Harvard, who produce an unbelievable number of books while fulfilling their teaching responsibilities. . . . and while keeping their face in the press with interviews, tours, and talking head appearances.

(You have to scroll to the second story on the WaPo page, btw. )

F’rinstance Alan Deshowitz, Law Professor, has published a dozen books since 2000.

Now, I couldn’t write a dozen books in 7 years if I did absolutely nothing else but work on them day and night. Most authors couldn’t. (a million monkeys, maybe.)

Jacob Hale Russell (of 02138) says Dershowitz pays a couple of full-time researchers and 3 or 4 part-timers $11.50 an hour to churn these books out. Dershowitz also repackages his own published text and chapters under new titles. It's legal.

Another Harvard Law Prof, Charles Ogletree,was not too disturbed when others found that his book contained several uncited paragraphs of another author's published text. Ogletree used the old “my research assistant copied text verbatim from another source and another assistant accidently left out the attribution while typing” excuse. That's gotten a lot of mileage lately, but the academic community doesn't seem to mind.

As Peter Carlson of WaPo observes, students get expelled for such antics. It’s called plagiarism, and you’d think law professors—especially as their value lies in their rep—would put themselves above suspicion. You'd think that their peers, at least, would demand that.

Of course, you’d think historians like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin would review the text from their books as well, removing passages lifted whole from other authors. But they used the same excuse—my research assistants wrote it and forgot the attribution.

Look, if your research assistants are writing your books, their names should be on the spine.

The practice of sending out underpaid grad students to compile books that will sell because a noted scholar—honest or not—is listed as the author has apparently become acceptable. I find it vile and shameful.

For the record, none of my professors ever did anything like that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Los Angeles Times (I think it was them) reports that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have arranged with Comedy Central to keep paying non-writing (and therefore non-striking) staff members, at least through this week. Variety reports that Jay Leno has assured his staff he will pay them through the holidays. Apparently, Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Kimmel have also stepped up to the plate.

I feel all warm and fuzzy. This picture is from the BBC website--a series of photos of the strike dated November 14, 2007.

Rationalizations aside, this is Hollywood. It IS all about image.

Shame on Carson Daly. As for Ellen Degeneres, . . . maybe if writers had four feet and tails she’d show a little more backbone. OTOH—Daly’s feeble attempt at an unscripted monologue does show how vital writers are.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Roman Artefacts in London Well

Great picture of 4th century AD goblets and tableware, most made of copper alloy. They were found in a wood-lined well at Upper Walbrook Valley in London.

The 19 pieces include "a matching set of three bowls that nest together, buckets that were probably used to water down wine, a cauldron, jugs and a ladle.Despite being 1,700 years old, the swinging handles on some of the artefacts are still in working condition." according to the London Telegraph. The first two pictures were also copied from the Telegraph site.

The treasure is dated mostly by the coins that were found in the well with them.

The assumption is that the poor used wood or ceramics, so this belonged to rich Romans (were Romans the only class with money, then? The article isn't clear).

Why were these objects dumped in a well? Either they were being hidden during dangerous days, with the intention of being retrieved later--or, there was some ritual significance to their deposit in water, which sounds a lot more Celtic than Roman to me.

The well was under the Draper Company Gardens, and was excavated in advance of new construction. The Draper Company has donated them all to the Museum of London, where they've been put on temporary display. it's called (groan) "All's Well that Ends Well."

The last picture is of Museum conservator Nancy Shippey working on the vessels.

Monday, December 03, 2007

NAGPRA Threatened?

According to, and other science news websites, the Dept. of the Interior has drafted new regulations that "would destroy the use of cultural affiliation as the principle for repatriation decisions."

Some Background:
NAGPRA stands for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is a federal law passed in 1990 that requires all museums and institutions receiving federal funds to return human remains and cultural items from graves to tribes or tribal descendents. It also protects gravesites or suspected gravesites from digs--either archaeological or accidental.

This 1997 pictures shows NAGPRA in action. The box contains the rattle of a Sioux medicine man, Elk Head. The rattle is being returned to a descendent of Elk Head by the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum.

The National Park Service has a great chart explaining what NAGPRA covers.

The Dept of the Interior has a website on NAGPRA too, which is ironic because that Department now wants to change the rules.

“The Department’s proposed regulations have no basis in law or science and reflect an attempt to impermissibly legislate in a manner not prescribed by Congress. The adoption of the regulations as they stand would force the NAGPRA process back to square one,” said Dean Snow, who is president of the Society of American Archaeologists. His group says that the DoI doesn't have the authority to implement this change, which is flawed.

Here are the Federal Register summaries of the changes in pdf form. The SAA claims these changes destroy the use of cultural affiliation as the guide for who gets what artefacts.

I don't pretend to understand it, but NAGPRA was a hard-fought and much-needed law. Mucking it up is not wise.